My recent fascination with tree spirits was renewed with my photographing a tree root, which to me looked like a mole face trying to peer through. And I passingly wondered if tree shapes were what invoked the human imagination to populate them with spirits? Or, if in some cases, the spirit of the tree shaped its outward appearance? However, no matter the origins, there are stories and believes from all over the world that celebrate the spirits of the trees.
Ireland has given the popular lore an abundance of tree lore; with the "fairy tree" being one of the best known.
An author that collected several of these, from sources known to him, was Diarmuid MacManus, who was a friend of Yeats in the poet's later years.
So when I want to "hear" a more authentic voice I often return to reading MacManus's The Middle Kingdom, and his Irish Earth Folk. It was the later that I just finished rereading. He discusses the family lore of The Killaeden Fairy Thorn, which his grandfather decided would look fine in the front of his house. Mr. MacManus remembered his grandfather as a "practical Victorian gentleman," who had little patience for the "Irish ways." So, when none of his help, or neighbors, would do the move for a fee he dug up, and moved, the tree himself. This, the author says, was in 1851, and for several years thereafter his grandfather lost both stock and money. All attributed by the locals to the move of the tree.
At the time of the book's publication, 1959, the tree had grown to a large, venerable landmark, but there were still some who thought the tree should be returned to its original place at Lis Ard, a fairy fort.
Mr. MacManus continues on with stories of "demon trees," which he says are of a different nature than the fairy trees. The fairy trees, and their guardians, are not provoked unless the tree(s) are tampered with, but some trees seem to have a more malevolent, primal, nature. These, be it due to murder or elemental, cause people to hurry on - the sheer nature of the darkness and rage awakening in the travelers a strong desire to flee.
One of the things I love about Diarmuid MacManus's books is that he respected the beliefs, his sources, and the past. And was willing to acknowledge that there may well be something beyond modern ken. And whether one believes in the fairies, or elementals, it can still be said that these beliefs challenge individuals to stop (even for a second), and consider a tree's individuality and right to peace.
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I am a Springfield, IL based storyteller with a fascination for how folklore travels, and for history.